Ferrucci, Foyt team find fuel in sudden Indianapolis 500 revival

Santino Ferrucci makes a pit stop during the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday, May 28, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Foyt sensed his late adopted mother helped Santino Ferrucci navigate Sunday’s anxious moment in the Indianapolis 500.

His adopted father, meanwhile, kept asking late-race questions between radio calls to the No. 14 car.

The only thing that would have made the A.J. Foyt Enterprises president smile more gleefully would have been a trip to victory lane with both parents and Ferrucci, whose third-place finish was the highest by a Foyt driver since 1999.

“We definitely had some people looking over us today,” Larry Foyt said. “Mom would be real happy and I know she kept us out of trouble because there were some close ones today. Whew!

“I’m glad we were able to be up there and be competitive really all day. I’m so thankful we got in the top three and just wish we could have gotten that win.”

Just being competitive in May was a victory for this team after the struggles it has endured on and off the track in recent years.

A.J. Foyt, the first of four drivers to win Indy four times and still one of the most popular figures at Gasoline Alley, had come to the Brickyard many times after surviving horrific crashes, killer bee attacks, a lion attack and multiple heart surgeries and staph infections. But nothing hurt more than the death in April of his beloved wife, Lucy, after 68 years of marriage. She was 88.

Foyt didn’t make his usual trip to the Kentucky Derby this year and largely did his work at the historic 2.5-mile oval privately.

The 24-year-old Ferrucci, meanwhile, understood exactly what this race and this month meant to his team owner and the Foyt family, setting out to do everything he could to make this a memorable May.

He even stole a page from the family playbook by making a series of daring passes, bravely driving through the grass, even getting lucky to avoid a late penalty when a crew member snatched a loose tire and pulled it back inside the pit box.

And in many ways, it seemed like this was destiny for the confident American driving the No. 14 car with the star-spangled paint job.

“Normally for this race, there’s a bit of nervousness and you’re just kind of like amped up, ready to go,” he said. “I was almost like in tears getting into the car because I think this race meant so much to so many of us today, specifically obviously with the passing of A.J.’s wife and Larry’s mom,” he said while noting another recent death within the team.

“It’s been a very emotional month for us.”

Almost from the start, Ferrucci injected energy on the track, too.

He was fast in practice, fast on qualifying weekend and after earning the No. 4 starting spot boasted about being one of six cars he thought could win the race Ferrucci took the lead on Lap 160, wound up leading 11 laps and was still near the front when three red flags came out over the final 15 laps.

Larry Foyt did his best to focus on keeping Ferrucci in position to win.

“When it was getting into the last stint, he (A.J.) was trying to ask me questions and I was trying to stay on the radio,” he said. “He was really getting into it and that’s just awesome. That’s how he’s used to racing and I’m glad we were able to do that today and be up there.”

Ferrucci certainly had his shot on the final restart — even after race officials reset the field by moving eventual winner Josef Newgarden from third to second while dropping Ferrucci down one spot to third.

Newgarden took advantage by passing Ericsson, the 2022 Indy winner, and Ferrucci tried to challenge. He just couldn’t get enough speed to challenge and wound up settling for third.

“Yeah, when you finish third, knowing that you led into (Turn) 1 with three or four to go, it’s tough,” Ferrucci said. “But I’m really happy with the way that things played out. This place does pick you as a winner. It’s very true. But I just really wanted to win this race.”

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